Our country stands at a crossroads of its history. Exports are down to $21.7 billion while imports have risen by 18 percent to $49 billion. The trade deficit has reached an alarming $26.9 billion and it is likely to grow to $30 billion this year. The current account deficit has reached $12 billion and Pakistan is sinking fast. We will soon be negotiating new loans with the IMF to pay off old loans and are thereby going deeper into an abyss.
The mismanagement of Pakistan, especially during the last nine years, has almost brought this country to its knees. We cannot continue on this path of self-destruction. But we have the courage and the determination to change the course of our future and make a transition towards a strong knowledge-based economy directed at inclusive socio-economic development.
The first issue to be addressed is whether we should have a parliamentary system of democracy or introduce a presidential system. A presidential system should not be confused with the country’s past military governments. Pakistan has never had a presidential democracy in the past. There are over 50 countries that practise the presidential system of democracy and a similar number that operate on a parliamentary system.
Both systems have their advantages and flaws. The three key branches that must work independently in any country and keep a strong system of checks and balances are the legislature (parliament), the executive (the prime minister and the cabinet) and the judiciary. If one of these three branches starts taking over the functions of the other, serious governance challenges could arise. In a parliamentary system, the functions of these institutions are likely to overlap since the prime minister often controls parliament because he belongs to the majority party.
The prime minister appoints the heads of organisations such as the police, FIA, NAB, the FBR, the State Bank and other bodies that cannot function independently. This allows the prime minister to control them so they can serve his or her ulterior motives.
In a presidential system, the president is elected directly by the people. This confers more legitimate powers on him or her. Moreover, in a presidential system, there is a clear separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, with the result that each branch can keep a check on and criticise the other.
In order to ensure that corrupt and incompetent people do not become presidents or federal ministers, it is important that a non-political committee of eminent citizens should be appointed by the judiciary to screen all people before they are allowed to contest elections for high offices. It is equally important in any new system to make major bodies completely independent of the government without introducing any form of government representation in their board of governors and operations. This serves to eliminate the chances of massive corruption through collusion. Such measures should be accompanied by transferring all cases of major corruption to military courts for the quick dispensation of justice, since corruption and terrorism are intimately interlinked.
A major advantage of the presidential system is that since the federal ministers are not appointed by parliament but directly by the best experts available in various fields – who would otherwise not have been interested in contesting for seats in parliament – we are likely to end up with a much better quality of cabinet members. The element of corruption also vanishes as the corrupt people would not be interested to contest for seats in parliament if the role of parliament was just law-making and oversight.
In order to ensure quality discussion and debate within parliament, the Islamic Republic of Iran has stipulated that all the members of its parliament must have at least a Master’s degree. We should also introduce a system of proportionate representation so that the number of members in parliament is proportional to the number of votes cast in favour of any political party. Reforms are also needed within the Election Commission of Pakistan so that the members are nominated by the judiciary and not by the political parties. This will ensure that neutrality is maintained.
However, these governance reforms alone will not be sufficient unless we have a clear vision, strategy and action plan to make a transition towards a strong knowledge-based economy. This will require the focus of development to shift so that we give the highest national priority to education, science, technology and innovation/entrepreneurship. It is, therefore, necessary that a national education emergency should be declared. Moreover, educational governance reforms must be introduced and education should be allocated at least seven percent of the GDP as approved by the cabinet of the previous government. Primary and secondary education should be made compulsory and government servants should be required by the law to send their children to the nearest government schools. A national education service, which makes service mandatory for at least one or two years, should be introduced for all graduating students.
We should develop and implement a legally binding technology transfer policy to ensure technology transfer becomes an essential component for all national projects approved by the planning division. The government should create a revolving innovation fund of Rs5 billion to support indigenous technology development in the public and private sectors and make the transfer of knowledge mandatory in all foreign direct investment. It is also important to encourage private sector research and development and business development through incentives, including the provision of venture capital, matching grants for training and new product development.
The government needs to promote high-tech manufacturing in the private sector with foreign collaboration by granting a ‘pioneering’ status to high-tech industries, establishing technology parks and high-tech industrial estates and implementing a 15-year tax holiday for the high-tech industry (as I did for the IT industry when I was federal minister for science and technology). CPEC should contain high-tech manufacturing hubs for the production and export of high-tech goods (engineering goods, defense products, pharmaceuticals, rare minerals, special alloys, electronics and special chemicals) in partnership with the Chinese private industry with a 15-year tax holiday and government insurance to cover losses incurred due to terrorism. Pakistan should introduce a tax of $5,000 for each container transiting via Pakistan to Afghanistan, including Nato containers. The time to act is now as tomorrow will be too late.
Article published in The News on 30th August 2017, reproduced with permission from the author.